PennDOT wants you to comment on high speed rail to Pittsburgh

Days ago, The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) released the Keystone West High Speed Rail Study, which aimed “to evaluate the feasibility of options to reduce rail travel times and increase trip frequency” of Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

You can comment on the study here until the end of March, 2015.  My comment is copied below.

Currently, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian operates one passenger train per day in each direction on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern.  The trip currently takes 5.5 hours.  It is enjoyable (with a cafe car) and scenic (e.g. Horseshoe Curve).

As it stands, Pittsburgh is quite a hike from Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New York.  Improved frequency (and someday speed) of service will create an attractive option for Pittsburgh’s growing number of car-free residents and travelers, not to mention those of Greensburg and Harrisburg.  Existing service east of Harrisburg is already fast, frequent, and electrified, therefore improvements to the Keystone West corridor would strengthen Pittsburgh’s connections to Philadelphia, New York, and the East Coast.

My comment to PennDOT:

To whom it may concern,

I’m thrilled to know this is actively being studied.
As someone who commuted on Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg every week for nine months, and who continues to ride the Pennsylvanian from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, I believe service frequency is more important in the short-term than travel duration.  Ridership is likely to grow with more departure times, but not as likely given one really fast train per day.
Having two or three trains each day in each direction as soon as possible is important because a great many people need to travel during the evening.  They are happy to spend 5.5 hours on a train reading, working, sleeping or socializing, if they can avoid losing 3.5 hours on the Turnpike.
Of course, any low hanging fruit that can bring higher speeds should be exploited early. But I believe the best use of limited resources, at first, will be to increase the frequency of service.  In the longer term, when there is more demand, support, and resources, we can straighten out some of the curves.
But please – do not bypass Horseshoe Curve.

2 thoughts on “PennDOT wants you to comment on high speed rail to Pittsburgh

  1. I recently read an article on “Why did New York Become our Biggest City?” While there were several factors involved one mentioned over and over again was speed. The fact that ships in colonial times did not have to go 90 miles up to port like they had to go to in Philadelphia meant that the turnaround was quicker from NYC to England so its port grew more rapidly than Philadelphia’s. Also because of the Eire Canal it could get shipments, farther, FASTER and cheaper to the inland of our growing American Nation. Speed was also mentioned as a factor in internet connections — the faster the transfer of knowledge can take place — the faster the person (area, City) can begin to respond. Speed of communication, transportation and human interaction brought on by density is very important to making a great city (state) great. So speed and frequency must go hand and hand, one feeds into the other.

    • Trip duration (speed) of the Keystone West corridor is certainly important. However, the current schedule (departing Pittsburgh at 7:30 AM, or departing Philadelphia at 12:42 PM) means that individuals need to spend the work day, or a day off, on the train. If people could ride in the evening, even if it takes 5.5 hours, more people would ride. I also suspect frequency can be increased for far less cost than speed. Rounding out curves would be very expensive.

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